A new study led by Queen’s University Belfast has found social media messaging has a significant positive effect on the health of teenagers.
The study of social media messaging, such as Facebook posts and sponsored ads, found that educating popular teenagers to spread health messages to their peer groups can help other young people to address health issues such as substance abuse, an unhealthy diet and smoking.
Dr Ruth Hunter, from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s and lead author on the paper, said: “Humans are embedded in social networks and these networks obey very particular rules - mathematical, biological, sociological, and psychological.
"If we can understand these rules they give us whole new ways of intervening for the better.
“The aim of our research was to understand how best we can use social networks to encourage us to be healthier.”
Positive behaviours noted were reaching out to pharmacists to quit smoking and/or cutting back on unhealthy foods.
Physical activity, diabetes and vaccinations were also positively benefitted by these interventions and led to significant improvements in health outcomes.
The research, carried out in partnership with the University of Southern California, is published this week in PLOS Medicine and was funded by the Northern Ireland Research and Development Office.
In the study, the research team conducted a review and analysis of 37 studies. The studies were conducted between the years 1996 and 2018, in 11 countries, and included a total of 53,891 participants.